Feasting on the Seasons at the ROI

In the kitchen with new Executive Chef Travis Lawton
GRACE LENTINI

Travis Lawton in the kitchen at The roI PHOTO BY MIKE BRACA
Travis Lawton is the new executive chef at The ROI. He started as a dishwasher and was taken under the wing of his friend John Walsh. Twenty years and many restaurants later, he’s graduated from the school of hard knocks and is ready to tell his story through his food.

What story are you trying to tell through your menu?
I wanted to tell my story as a cook, cooking in Providence. My friends and family are reflected in my menu.

How is the menu going to be different from what we’ve previously seen at The ROI?
It’s going to reflect the seasons. Fall is my favorite time of year. I’m really excited to put more hearty, homey and earthy stuff on it. Give me some root vegetables and pot pie! That’s the best thing about New England. We have four distinct seasons; why not make the best of it?

If I wanted one last blast of summer, what should I eat?
Get the Grilled Watermelon Salad before the watermelon is gone. The watermelon is hot and the tomatoes are roasted and served cold. It’s served with some feta, a hint of mint and a balsamic reduction.

How do you support locally sourced products?
I try to hit the farmers’ market as much as I can. Providence is such a close-knit community. I go see my friend’s band on the weekends. It’s the same with local products. Supporting your local farmer is the same as supporting your local music scene. Its people who love what they’re doing and just want to do their thing.

Tell me about one dish that really stands out on your menu.

The duck – it brings out a lot of my past and present together. I learned to make duck confit at a restaurant in Philadelphia. The blackberry demi-glace is a summering-up of a not-so-summery ingredient – the demi-glace. The späetzle is my girlfriend’s mom’s recipe. It’s straight from Germany. I had to translate it from metric.

What goodness can we expect from your upcoming fall menu?
I like turnips and parsnips. I’m sure there will be a pot pie and lasagna. My mom used to make me lasagna every year on my birthday. I liked that.

What is your approach to cooking?
One of the things I like to do is take things that are familiar and tweak it in a di!erent way. Food is supposed to be fun. When it is a little bit surprising, it is fun. When I look at raw ingredients, I know they know what they want to taste like. I’m here to guide them to get there. I’m just a helper with good skills and a great crew. A chef without an ass-kicking crew is like James Brown without the Famous Flames.

Can you give me an example?
Take an egg. It doesn’t get any simpler than an egg. They want to be so many di!erent things. Some eggs want to be breakfast and some want to be späetzle. I’m here to help them out. If they hang out with me they won’t be plain for long. They’ll rocket up the food chain quickly!

I’ve got a sweet tooth. What’s the pre-scription?
I have to give a huge shoutout to James Bjurman, my sous chef. He’s my dessert guy. When I started working here, I immediately called Jimmy, told him to quit his job and start this thing. He makes a mean cheesecake. Everything else is made in-house. The beignets are pretty slammin’ too.